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Resolutions Rescinded - COVID-19 Emergency Provisions

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Tags: House of Assembly, COVID-19, Standing Orders

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, we will be supporting motion number 303 to return the business of parliament, in large part, to the way it was before. Parliament last met on 25 June and how the world has changed since we were last together. At that date there were 9.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases around the world and 462 000 deaths. As of today, there are 21.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases, 766 000 deaths, and in the United States there are 5.5 million confirmed cases and 170 000 known or registered deaths.

Nationally, from 25 June when we last met, we have gone from 7558 confirmed cases to now 24 000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia. We have gone from having 104 Australians lose their lives as at 25 June and now on this day, the record shows that 421 Australians have lost their lives to coronavirus. In that time, during the winter recess, it became clear where one of the largest problems is in terms of our response to coronavirus, with 70 per cent of all deaths in Australia having been in aged care. For anyone who wants to know how criminally negligent our response as a country was to aged care they should read Rick Moreton's piece from last Saturday's Saturday Paper. It will reduce you to tears and make you furious if you are an empathetic person.

What we saw during the winter recess was the Commonwealth washing its hands of responsibility for keeping people safe in aged care, a system that was privatised under John Howard. A deliberate decision was made not to send people in aged care facilities who contracted the disease to hospital because apparently their lives did not have as much value as young people. As a consequence, in places like Newmarch House, an Anglicare-run facility in New South Wales, the virus spread like wildfire, yet we did not learn. Four to six weeks later in Victoria, the same thing was happening where there was a government decision at a federal and state level not to put people who had contracted coronavirus and were in an aged care facility into a hospital - and what do you know, people died. In aged care facilities staff fled.

As a country we were woefully unprepared because of the decision of governments and the Commonwealth Government, Scott Morrison's Government, not to take responsibility for aged care which they fund and have statutory responsibility for.

In South Australia, the state government made a decision to send people who had contracted coronavirus out of an aged care facility into hospital and they did not have a single outbreak in aged care. I felt it very important to place that on the record in the deep hope that will not happen in Tasmania and that we will not do that to our older Tasmanians.

I take this opportunity to place on the public record my gratitude to the Premier, the Minister for Health, Public Health and Tasmania Police for keeping us safe, and to every Tasmanian who over that period, and some of those were very difficult months, made enormous sacrifices. It has been very difficult here in Tasmania for many people who have lost family members or lost their jobs and face a very uncertain future. I give a nod to young people who have lost their jobs in droves as a result of the virus. We understand from advice given to the Australian Government that it will take four to five years at least for youth employment to recover.

It is important that our parliament - and we are blessed to be able to do so - returns to a measure of normality and we are able to scrutinise Government respectfully but with laser focus.

I note that the essential traveller rules have changed for federal members of parliament. They were classified essential travellers previously and are now no longer. As I understand it, representatives from Tasmania will be required to mandatorily quarantine in a hotel for two weeks after getting back from representing us in Canberra and passing laws.

I just cannot let this moment pass. The contrast between an essential traveller exemption that was given to the Tasmanian Hospitality Association's national representative to attend the Crowne Plaza launch and the way people are being denied the opportunity to attend family funerals or to be with a grieving parent is real. The Premier might not like us asking these questions but we are giving voice to what people in the community are saying. There has been an inconsistency in the way the essential traveller and essential worker exemptions have been granted and people in the community sense that and are not happy about it. With those few words I indicate that of course we will be supporting the motion.